Sunday, December 8, 2013

Oh Deer! Deterring (and Enjoying) Our Favorite Forest Animal

A doe feeds in the forest behind our lot
Since moving to a wooded area earlier this year, I've found that most of my neighbors have a love/hate relationship with deer. They love seeing herds of these large animals walk through, and enjoy watching their size, appearance, and habits change throughout the season. They also hate the damage they can do to their gardens.

My family, being forest newbies that have not yet invested a lot in our new landscape, are still in the love phase. Whenever we see deer in the backyard, we alert the others and peer at them out the back windows.

I'm in the process of designing my vegetable garden, and need to take the local deer population into account. They way I see it, there are three ways to deter deer: deer-resistant plants, fences, and chemical-free deterrents.

Deer-Resistant Plants
Deer hate salvia, but pollinators love it.
It just doesn't makes sense to me when homeowners fill their landscapes with plants that deer love, then spend all of their time protecting those plants and lamenting over every chewed-off leaf. Why not do it right from the start, save yourself time and stress, and plant varieties that they don't like? This includes perennial plants in the mint and onion family, and lots of shrubs and trees that are just not appetizing. Perennials like allium, anemone, calamintha nepeta, salvia, and monarda are a few of my favorites. Not only can you select plants from a list of deer-resistant varieties to fill your gardens, but you can also try planting these heavily around plants both you and deer love, like hydrangea.

In the vegetable garden, plant herbs like basil, chives, dill, oregano, mint, parsley, rosemary, sage, and thyme around the borders of the garden. Deer hate these strong-smelling herbs (but I still recommend a fence - see below).

Luckily, some of my favorite native trees and shrubs are also deer-resistant. Try witch hazel, black chokeberry, bottlebrush buckeye, serviceberry, redbud, sourwood, and tulip tree for full season interest and beauty.

A deer can easily jump over a 6 foot fence, so if you are using a fence as a deer-deterrent, go high. However, many municipalities and home-owners associations do not allow fencing this high, and it can also be quite unattractive. I don't want to block my view, so a fence this tall is not an option. However, if you do it right, a shorter fence can be used in the vegetable garden in conjunction with raised beds. If the deer does not have a safe landing space on the other side of the fence, they will not try to get in. So, when designing your veggie garden, use raised beds in a staggered pattern that does not allow for a clean landing for deer. You can also place some of the plant material mentioned above on the outside of the fence as an additional repellant. Check out this episode of Growing a Greener World for details of the construction of their raised bed trial gardens, and skip to 12:11 for the discussion on fencing options.

Chemical-Free Deterrents
As the Growing a Greener World video mentions, there are lots of old-wives tales when it comes to keeping deer away. Human hair, Irish Spring soap, and flashy metal objects are some of them. Sprays that have a repelling taste or smell may work, but need to be reapplied after rain or snow. I received a sample of Sweeney's Deer Repellent, which emits an odor that triggers the flight-response in deer, but humans can't smell. Humanely gathered dried blood is housed in a weatherproof container, so after sticking them in the ground, they are good for the entire season.

If you've got some really hungry or determined deer you may need to use a combination of these methods, but it is possible to have a beautiful landscape that both you and wildlife can enjoy.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Raised Bed Gardens - Healthier and More Productive!

This article is a reprint from The GardenWorks Project blog, with good information on raised beds for any gardener!

Raised Bed Gardens for Our Neighbors in Need

The GardenWorks Project provides families in need of food assistance with a 4x8’ raised garden bed in which to grow their own food at home. Some have asked – isn’t it easier and less expensive to plant right into the ground? Why would you incur the extra expense of purchasing wood and soil, and the extra volunteer labor needed to build the bed?

The quick answer is that we want our clients to be successful, and the combined gardening experience of our leadership and volunteers agree that gardens with raised beds are much easier to start, and grow healthier, more productive plants than ground-level beds. Here’s why:

·        Raised bed gardens are easier to install. It is much easier to build a raised garden frame and fill it with fresh soil and compost than it is to remove sod, break up hard, compacted, often lifeless soil. Our volunteers arrive at the client’s home, help build the frame, place the frame right on top of the grass (cut short), fill the bed with bagged soil and compost, and are ready to plant in about 20 minutes. It would take longer than that to prepare a ground-level bed, and the soil would not be nearly as soft and welcoming to seeds and tender seedlings.

·       Raised beds grow less weeds. Our raised beds are filled with weed seed-free soil. When preparing a ground-level bed for planting, most gardeners till the soil, which exposes thousands of weed seeds to sunlight, allowing them to sprout and grow. Additionally, the dying sod layer beneath the bed acts as a weed barrier and provides soil nutrients as it decomposes.

·        Raised bed soil is healthier. The soil under a typical lawn is very compacted, full of clay, and devoid of life (worms and beneficial microorganisms). The GardenWorks Project provides clients with fresh soil and nutrient-rich compost, ensuring healthy soil right from the start without a need for chemical fertilizers.

·        Raised bed gardens produce higher yields. Because The GardenWorks Project gardens are built with healthy soil from the start, our clients enjoy stronger, disease-resistant plants that produce more vegetables than a ground-level garden.  Also, in a raised bed the roots have more vertical space to grow, so our clients can grow more plants in less space.

·        Better water drainage. Water drains through the soil better in a raised bed with fresh soil and compost compared to a ground-level bed, where drainage is often stunted by clay soil. Good drainage increases the health of the plant by allowing oxygen to reach the roots and preventing root rot.

The mission of The GardenWorks Project is to relieve hunger by providing the undernourished in our community with all of the resources and education to grow their own food at home. Most of our clients have never gardened before, and success in their first gardening season is critical to building their confidence. Raised beds eliminate many of the gardening pitfalls that could cause a gardening newbie to throw in the towel. Building raised bed vegetable gardens allow our clients to grow more vegetables, providing families with fresh produce to eat, right from their own backyard.

For more information about The GardenWorks Project, including how you can help your DuPage and Kane County neighbors in need, visit and LIKE us on Facebook